The Instigator
Meatros
Pro (for)
Winning
9 Points
The Contender
BrianCBiggs
Con (against)
Losing
4 Points

the Naturalist has better reason for the assumption that nature is uniform then the Christian

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
Meatros
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/27/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,948 times Debate No: 17299
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (50)
Votes (3)

 

Meatros

Pro

This is the second time I've attempted to debate this topic. The first one kind of fizzled. I will be arguing that the naturalist has better reason for the assuming that nature is uniform then the Christian.

The debate is structured as follows:

1. Acceptance (no arguments)

2. Opening Statements (Pro's and Con's)

3. Rebuttal

4. Closing statements
BrianCBiggs

Con

I gladly accept this challenge and hope to be a good opponent. And, as a Van Tillian Presuppositionalist, I'm sure I am the sort of challenger you were looking for.

I look forward to reading and debating your arguments.
Debate Round No. 1
Meatros

Pro



I want to thank my opponent, Brian C Biggs, for accepting this challenge. After perusing his blog I can tell that he will be a formidable challenge! It is my hope that our exchanges are productive and that we both learn something from them.


Opening Statement


The problem of induction is an old one. Why should we believe that the future will be like the past? In an article responding to Victor Reppert, Richard Carrier writes:


“Of course, even following Hume and Reppert, inductive reasoning is fundamentally circular for everyone, even for God. Everyone is in the same boat, theist or atheist. All one can do is posit a hypothesis (e.g. "God exists" or "Nature is consistently uniform") to explain the evidence (consistent uniformity) and then constantly test that hypothesis (so far, it has never been falsified, and has been abundantly verified). To accept this line of reasoning, all one need do is reject the groundless and self-defeating methodological principle "Maybe, therefore probably." And the theist is in no better position than an atheist here.”(
1)


It would appear that Carrier is correct. In the first part of my opening statement I will give reasons the naturalist has for presupposing that nature is uniform. The second half will show how the Christian worldview is insufficient for the task.

The primary basis on which we can presuppose the uniformity of nature is pragmatism. To put it simply, it works. To be more specific, it is the instrumentalist view:


In the philosophy of science, instrumentalism is the view that a scientific theory is a useful instrument in understanding the world. A concept or theory should be evaluated by how effectively it explains and predicts phenomena, as opposed to how accurately it describes objective reality.” (2)


In addition to usefulness, there is no reason to assume that anything would interfere with natures’ uniformity. According to Francois Tremblay:


We know that we can trust our past experiences because we live in a self-contained (i.e. material) universe. There is nothing that can come and muddle the action of natural law on myself or my environment. I am perfectly comfortable knowing that the Sun will rise tomorrow, because the law of gravity will never be suspended. ” (3)


I think that Tremblay's reasoning about a deterministic universe gives us prima facie reasons for presupposing the uniformity of nature on a naturalist universe.

I have provided two reasons for the naturalist to accept the uniformity of nature.


The Christian denial that nature is uniform


The Christian worldview is the view that supernatural entities act within the natural universe, violating natural law through miracles. Wikipedia says:


“A miracle is an event attributed to divine intervention. Sometimes an event is also attributed (in part) to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles.[1] Theologians[who?] say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.[2]”
(4)


I will disregard the contention that God works within the laws of nature, if my opponent wishes to take this track, then it is on him to explain this and to show how this belief is consistent with the Bible.


How miracles cross paths with induction can be illustrated with the primary question philosophers bring to the table with regards to induction: how do you know the Sun will rise tomorrow? To the person living on the opposite side of the earth during the days of Joshua there was no guarantee that the Sun would rise tomorrow! Joshua:


“10:12 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. [Is] not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.”
(5)


This, of course, is not the only time when, according to the Bible, God acts within nature. Matthew:


“28:2 And behold, there was
a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. ” (6)


Not only is an angel descending from heaven to interfere with nature (rolling the rock), God has caused an earth quake. In the previous chapter (Mathew 27), God causes darkness for three hours (7), God causes another earth quake which opens graves that contained dead saints who came back to life (8). These events are not natural occurrences. They are miracles of God, otherwise known as God's interfering with nature.


In the Revelation, we see more great earthquakes, the Sun becoming black, the Moon becoming the color of blood, stars of heaven falling to earth, and every mountain and island ‘moved out of their place’ (9).


I could go on (10), I’ve made a preliminary case. If we are to believe the Bible, then we have a deity who actively interferes with nature, therefore we could not consistently hold to nature being uniform. How is the Christian to know when God is going to interfere with nature in the future? Does the Christian know the mind of God to such an extent that he or she would know exactly when God will interfere with nature in the future? If so, how does the Christian know this?


Since, in his introduction, Brian has indicated that he is a Van Tillian, I will also provide an argument against his justifying the uniformity of nature. Van Till believed that we should reject the notion of autonomous reasoning. (11)

On his blog, Brian seems to endorse this view, stating:

"So, when Christians speak apologetically, we ought to be careful when talking about reasoning apart from God. If we mean that we can reason apart from giving God his due recognition then yes we can, albeit distorted and leading to futility. If on the other hand, we also say that we can reason apart from God’s general revelation, or on our own – we implicitly deny his sovereignty, our dependence, and the need for him to be pre-emanate in all things." (12)

Kelly Clark identifies the fatal flaw in this view:

"Here is the problem; Each person must decide (tacitly or explicitly) that a purported revelation is revelation. Each person must decide that what is being said in some particular holy writ is the voice of God. Each person must decide what is being said and then what it means. And each person must decide what it means today that God said something a long time ago. At every level, human reason is operative." (13)

If we cannot reason autonomously, then how can Brian possibly argue that the Bible states that God maintains the uniformity of nature?


In conclusion, I have provided two reasons for the naturalist’s use of the uniformity of nature and I have provided two reasons that Brian can't trust that nature is uniform.










(10) In Luke 9:39, the Bible states that a demon possesses a man, thereby showing that other entities aside from God interrupt nature http://www.blueletterbible.org...

(11) http://en.wikipedia.org...
(12) http://www.briancbiggs.com...
(13) Five Views on Apologetics, Kelly James Clark, pg 262
BrianCBiggs

Con


I want to start by thanking Meatros for setting up this debate. I'm sure it will be a good one.

Opening Statement

I am here to deny that the Naturalist has better reason for the assumption that nature is uniform than the Christian. This can be accomplished a number of ways. First, I could take a strict and narrow understanding of what it means to demonstrate this denial by arguing that the Naturalist and the Christian are equals in their reasons for assuming the uniformity of nature (UoN), rather than the Naturalist having the advantage. But, while this is a minimum, it wouldn't make for a very interesting or sporting debate. Secondly, it could be shown that the Christian has better reason to assume it. And, as the last and strongest position, it could be argued that the Naturalist has no basis for believing in the UoN, and the Christian does. I will attempt to show the last position to be true; though, failing to do so, showing at least one of the other two positions will suffice.



My opponent must take the following steps in order to prove his thesis:

1. Show that Naturalism provides reasons to believe in the UoN.

2. Show that Christianity's reasons are weaker than the Naturalist's.



Christianity's reasons for believing in the UoN

Christianity receives its understanding that nature will operate with regularity from revelation. Vern Poythress explains:

The regularities that scientists describe are the regularities of God's own commitments and actions. By his word to Noah, he commits himself to govern the seasons. By his word he governs snow, frost, and hail. Scientists describe the regularities in God's word governing the world. So-called natural law is really the law of God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators. (1)


Christianity declares that there is a mind governing this world, giving rationality to this world. God has also purposed that we can understand this world; that our thoughts can correspond to it.



Christianity's so-called denials of the UoN


When it is argued that Christianity undermines the UoN, etc. it is almost always done on the idea that one cannot both believe in miracles and the UoN. But before I address whether or not these are compatible or exclusive, I think it is appropriate to distinguish between miracles and providence. John Feinberg sheds some light on the difference, saying:


Though God provides sometimes by miraculous intervention in our world, Brian Hebblethwaite reminds us that typically theologians distinguish direct miraculous intervention from divine providence. As to the latter, it normally refers to God's action “in and through natural agencies to bring about his purposes.” (2)


And, C.S. Lewis, in an essay concerned with the very topic we are discussing, describes miracles as such:


...if there was anything outside of Natrue, and if it interfered – then the events which the scientist expected wouldn't follow. That would be what we call a miracle. In one sense it wouldn't break the laws of Nature. The laws tell you what will happen if nothing interferes. (3)


Now consider my opponent’s definition of the UoN:


The assumption is that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now, have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. (4)


I wonder what exactly is meant by natural law. Are “natural laws and processes” to be taken to mean the regularity itself? Does it refer to some amoral prescriptive rules? Or, does it refer to descriptive laws?


If they are prescriptive and meatros insists on pragmatism, upon what grounds does he differentiate miracles from these laws? After all, he has no access to these laws – he has what may or may not be useful fictions. If, on the other hand, these are descriptive laws, then they are indeed subject to change with the advance of science.


At any rate, it is a curious thing to pit miracles against the assumption of UoN. After all, the idea of miracles presupposes the UoN. Or, at least, the identification of events as miraculous does. How is it that one knows a miracle has occurred? Specified criteria aside, the first indication that an event may be a miracle is that it perceptively doesn't fit with what normally occurs in the natural world. This means that there is an expected regularity, a uniformity perceived to be interrupted.



Naturalism's Problems


The Naturalist is faced with the problem of induction; how can the Naturalist make generalizations in order to make predictions based on past observations? If nature acts with regularity over space and time, then such generalizations can be made. Bertand Russel explains:


It is obvious that if we are asked why we believe that the sun will rise to-morrow, we shall naturally answer 'Because it always has risen every day'. We have a firm belief that it will rise in the future, because it has risen in the past. If we are challenged as to why we believe that it will continue to rise heretofore, we may appeal to the laws of motion: the earth, we shall say, is a freely rotating body, and such bodies do not cease to rotate unless something interferes from the outside, and there is nothing outside to interfere with the earth between now and to-morrow. Of course it might be doubted whether we are quite certain that there is nothing outside to interfere, but this is not the interesting doubt. The interesting doubt is as to whether the laws of motion will remain in operation until to-morrow. If this doubt is raised, we find ourselves in the same position as when the doubt about the sunrise was first raised. (5)


If the Naturalist assumes the UoN in order to use induction, could he then immediately turn around and justify his belief in the UoN inductively? Or, if he were to argue that since assuming the UoN allows for induction and induction produces knowledge, that he ought to believe in the UoN, on what basis does he argue that induction will continue to produce knowledge. Or, if induction instead produces useful fictions, on what grounds does the Naturalist suggest that it will continue to produce fictions that are useful? Surely not induction!


This desire to use induction, but lack of grounding to do so is due to the Naturalist's synthesis of rationalism and irrationalism inherent in his worldview. Van Til sums it up when he writes:


The two systems, that of the Non-Christian and that of the Christian, differ because of the fact that their basic assumptions or presuppositions differ. On the non-Christian basis man is assumed to be the final reference point in predication. Man will therefore have to seek to make a system for himself that will relate all the facts of his environment to one another in such a way as will enable him to see exhaustively all the relations that obtain between them. In other words, the system that the non-Christian has to seek on his assumption is one in which he himself virtually occupies the place that God occupies in Christian theology. Man must, in short, be virtually omniscient. He must virtually reduce the facts that confront him to logical relations...



It is true that in modern thought there seems to be no such striving after exhaustive knowledge. But the reason for this seeming “irrationalism” of modern thought lies in the fact that it puts stress upon another non-Christian assumption: that all reality is temporal throughout. Hence all facts are assumed to be what they are simply as products of chance. (6)


Sources


1. Poythress, Vern. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, p. 15.


2. Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Kindle Location 15103-14.


3. Lewis, C.S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Kindle Location 816-26.


4. See the comment section of this debate.


5. Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy, Kindle Location 641-61.


6. Van Til, Cornelius. A Christian Theory of Knowledge, pp. 13-14.

Debate Round No. 2
Meatros

Pro

I want to thank Brian for his opening statement. It is very elucidating and provides me quite a challenge. The resolution is that the naturalist has better reasons for assuming that nature is uniform than the Christian. With this resolution in mind, let’s examine Brian’s opening statement.

Brian states that in order to prove my thesis I must do two things, I must show that Naturalism provides reasons to believe in the UoN and I must also show that Christianity’s reasons are weaker than the Naturalists. I believe I have done this in my opening statement, with two reasons that support the Naturalist’s use of induction and two reasons that undermine the Christian’s confidence. Let’s examine those four reasons.


Naturalist UoN:

Contention 1: My first contention was that the naturalist is pragmatically justified in presupposing the uniformity of nature.

In response to my contention, Brian’s attack is two-fold. First he attempts to target pragmaticism via amoral prescriptive rules and I confess that I do not see the relevance to my position here. My appeal to pragmaticism, or more specifically instrumentalism (as I stated in my opening)(1) is not a prescriptive appeal. I am not referring to morality, objective or otherwise.

In order to get to his next attack, Brian lays out what the problem we consider actually is. He quotes Bertrand Russell, who outlined the problem with certainty and the uniformity of nature. Brian perceptively adds to Russell, by saying:


“Or, if he were to argue that since assuming the UoN allows for induction and induction produces knowledge, that he ought to believe in the UoN, on what basis does he argue that induction will continue to produce knowledge. Or, if induction instead produces useful fictions, on what grounds does the Naturalist suggest that it will continue to produce fictions that are useful? Surely not induction!”

The problem with this response is that it surely misses the target. The naturalist’s appeal to instrumentalism does not entail certainty. What it entails is an actual reason to presuppose induction – namely, it works. When it fails to continue to work (if it does) then, and only then, is the instrumentalist not justified in presupposing induction. In the same work that Brian quotes, Russell makes clear what he is arguing against:

The most we can hope is that the oftener things are found together, the more probable it becomes that they will be found together, the more probable it becomes that they will be found together another time, and that, if they have been found together often enough, the probability will amount almost to certainty.” (2)


Russell’s target is that of certainty. He is not arguing that we cannot or should not trust that nature will remain uniform, only that certainty is not within our grasp. This is true no matter what position (theistic or atheistic) one takes (I will argue this below).


To further drive home my point about instrumentalism, consider:

The perspective of scientific instrumentalism holds that the judicious interrogation of Proteus would be valuable even were the sea demon not to now truth but only knowledge that would help solve the problems of his interrogators. According to scientific instrumentalism, the aim of scientific theories is not to discover truth but rather to produce intellectual structures that provide adequate predictions of what is observed and useful frameworks for answering questions and solving problems in a given domain (Thagard, 2002; Van Fraassen, 2002). From this philosophical perspective, scientific theory represents convenient intellectual structures for predicting or describing in more abstract terms observable data, not actual structures in the world. ”(3)

Contention 2: I have argued that a deterministic closed universe gives the naturalist prima facie support for trusting that nature will remain uniform because there is no outside force that could interfere with the uniformity of nature. It does not appear that Brian has actually presented any arguments against this contention. Until he does so, it would appear that this reason stands.

Christian Justification of the UoN

Contention 3:

Brian contends that the Christian’s trust stems from God commitment to his creation – but surely does Brian not realize that this sort of justification begs the very same question he’s accusing the naturalist of? What basis does Brian have to assume that God will continue to keep nature uniform? Is it because he has done so in the past?

Contention 4:


Speaking of commitments, how does Brian know that God promised to uphold the UoN in the first place? For this Brian quotes Pythress:


By his word to Noah, he commits himself to govern the seasons. By his word he governs snow, frost, and hail” (3)

It’s unclear how Pythress or Brian can possibly extend the governing of the seasons over the whole cosmos. This seems an unjustified assertion, especially considering that God supposedly interferes with the law of gravity after this point in order to aid Joshua! So clearly God is specifically referring to the seasons and only the seasons – let’s remember that all of my examples of God’s interference with the regularities of nature occur after Noah.

Contention 5:

In responding to my contention that miracles violate the uniformity of nature, Brian quotes CS Lewis, who says that the laws of nature tell you what happens when nothing interferes – but this is precisely why miracles undermine the confidence in the UoN. How is finite man supposed to know when, where, and for how long these interferences occur? Brian also provides an explanation of the difference between Divine Providence and miracles, I can accept this distinction as Brian has articulated it; miracles are the problematic feature of Brian’s worldview in this regard. So while miracles presuppose the UoN, their existence provides reason to doubt any regularity we might perceive. How do we know what is a regularity and what is a miracle? Is the moon’s orbit around the earth a regularity or a miracle which will stop tomorrow because the reason behind that miracle’s existence is no longer deemed necessary by God?

Contention 6:

Brian’s rejection of man’s ability to autonomously reason undercuts his entire worldview, throwing him directly into epistemic skepticism, his reason to trust any knowledge has evaporated. To this objection, Brian has not raised any rebuttals; instead he has doubled down, quoting Van Til who again says that we cannot trust ourselves.

If we cannot trust ourselves, then how are we supposed to trust in God’s revelation? How are we supposed to know which revelations are from God and which are not? How are we supposed to know how to interpret it? If we can't trust our own reasoning, then we can't trust our interpretation of the Bible that God has commitment to the UoN! The quote from Kelly Clark in my opening only resonates stronger.

Clark states:


“Every take on Scripture is interpretation - and interpretation is a function (at least partly) of "autonomous" human reason. We may damn reason in some of its restrictive forms, but it is the best (and only tool) that intellectually free human beings have to discover the truth.” (4)

In conclusion it appears that I have added two more contentions to my original four. Brian’s obstacle has just become more difficult.

References:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org...

(2) Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy, Kindle Location 633 – bolding mine (it seems that Brian’s kindle and mine are not synced, location-wise as his quote appeared earlier in my kindle).

(3) http://psychology.uchicago.edu...: May-June 2004, American Psychologist, pg 217

(4) See Brian’s first note.

(5) Five Views on Apologetics, Kelly James Clark, pg 262

BrianCBiggs

Con


Meatros has added to the list I need to answer, but I welcome his thoughtful challenges. The reason I did not go through a list of rebuttals in my opening statement, is because it was just that: an opening statement.


Contention 1



Meatros, in order to drive home his point, quotes a paper explaining that “From this philosophical perspective, scientific theory represents convenient intellectual structures for predicting or describing in more abstract terms observable data, not actual structures in the world.” In this statement is revealed the two classes of experiences that instrumentalism creates; scientific theories (T), which are really “convenient intellectual structures” and observable data (O). Now, since we lack access to the actual structures of the world, we use O in order to make our own intellectual structures (T). But, since we cannot simply compare T with the actual structures, we test T by how well it allows us to predict O.



This is simple enough... provided there can exist a distinction between O and T, wherein we have real access to O and T is a construct. For, if O and T are identical, then the means of testing T is... well, by T. But Karl Popper noticed that predication transcends experience, even in the seemingly singular and mundane statements, providing him reason to reject instrumentalism:



Here I will only say that I reject instrumentalism, and I will give only one reason for rejecting it: that it does not solve the problems of the 'abstract' or 'occult' or 'structural' properties. For such properties do not only occur in the 'abstract' theories which Berkeley and his successors had in mind. They are mentioned all the time, by everybody, and in ordinary speech. Almost every statement we make transcends experience. There is no sharp dividing line between an 'empirical language' and a 'theoretical language'... (1)



Think about your eye. How is it that you “see”? Is it not through the process of light hitting your eye, which is then turned into signals sent to the brain, where it is then (usually) combined with signals sent from the other eye and interpreted into one image? Then, there is also a “blind spot” which is filled in! I could point out similar things in each of the other senses. There is no brute fact, only interpretations that might be described as “convenient intellectual structures”. So, in what way can something be justified because it 'works'?




Contention 2



Would it be reasonable to assume that Nature is Uniform, given a deterministic, naturalistic universe? Yes, but only because you have already done so. How does one move from Naturalism to determinism? How is it that things are “determined”? The laws of nature? More specifically, the UoN. I wouldn't doubt that many Naturalists are determinists, but they are by nature of their belief in the UoN, not vice versa.



And as for negating “outside” interruptions, I think that is fine. But what is it that prevents “internal” interruptions, or prevents there being chaos inside of a Naturalistic system instead of order?




Contention 3



My confidence that God will continue to govern with regularity is not based upon some inductive generalization, but bases upon who God is, given his immutable character and nature.




Contention 4



My opponent asks how I can extend God's governing the seasons to his governing of the cosmos. My answer is quite simple: I haven't. God's governing of the weather is just an example of his sovereignty, not the justification of it. As Nebuchadnezzar put it, “he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'” (2) Likewise, Job confessed that “no purpose of yours [God's] can be thwarted” (3) when confronted by “him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (4)



On the other hand, what is the cause of the seasons but the tilt of the axis, earths orbit of the sun, etc? Likewise, what sort of physics and chemistry are needed for the weather patterns we have? And did not God, in the creation account, give the stars as signs for seasons, days, and years? (5) In fact, in Genesis, it seems as though God gives general purposes – along with regularities – to all of his creation.



Does the day the sun stood still for Joshua mean it won't rise tomorrow? Do singular anomalies ruin our ability to do science, or overturn scientific theories? Do you think Newton would have revised his description of the motion of the planets if he had lived in Joshua's time? Did he revise it, knowing and believing the story of Joshua?



Now, consider another problem raised with this example. One day the sun doesn't rise... or one day it doesn't go down. But is the sun rise actually a law of nature? Is it dependent on laws alone or is it also dependent on the size and rotation of the earth, etc.? In other words, there are varying degrees of regularity in observable events.



Induction does not produce 100% certainty. But, it can produce nothing without regularities by which to generalize. God produces those regularities, albeit with sparse and obvious interruptions.




Contention 5



My opponent has conceded that miracles presuppose the UoN (i.e. if it is an interruption of something, there must be something to interrupt), but now questions if we can distinguish between regularities and miracles. Now, it seems somewhat odd that Meatros on the one hand says he accepts my distinction between miracles and providence, but ends up questioning this very distinction. For, if it is by governing that God maintains the UoN, and by governing that miracles occur, then the difference between them must be that one is general, while the other is special. If we determine that a miracle is a special intervention or interruption then we cannot expect them to have regularity, but instead appear as anomalies. So, we should not expect something like the orbit moon to be considered miraculous (besides which, we have an example of its intended regularity described in Gen. 1:16). Meatros himself seems to be able to determine the difference between a miracle and a regularity, as demonstrated by his list of them in his opening statement.





Contention 6



Meatros pithily points out that I have “doubled down” by quoting Van Til. Indeed I have. Meatros has twice quoted Kelly Clark in opposition to my position. But he is mistaken in his conclusion – it is not the lack of autonomy that undercuts Van Til, but the presence of it that undermines Clark. For, if autonomous reason “is the best (and only tool) that intellectually free human beings have to discover the truth”, then the obligation to believe anything is destroyed. God's revelation is not an authority to be obeyed, but an opinion to be scrutinized. Man becomes the measure of all things. And, if God's revelation were dependent on man's autonomous reasoning, by what means can man be said to be “without excuse”(6) when they do not honor God?



Though, I do not have the ability, within this debate, to answer all of Meatros' challenges to presuppositionalism, I will try to also give a positive answer to Clark, by letting Van Til defend himself:



God has absolute self-contained system within himself. What comes to pass in history happens in accord with that system or plan by which he orders the universe. But man, as God's creature, cannot have a replica of that system of God. He cannot have a reproduction of that system. He must, to be sure, think God's thoughts after him; but this means that he must, in seeking to form his own system, constantly be subject to the authority of God's system to the extant that this is revealed to him.(7)




Sources



1. Popper, Karl. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Kindle Locations 8014-25.


2. Dan 4:35, ESV


3. Job 42:2, ESV


4. Eph 1:11, ESV


5. Gen 1:14-15


6. Rom 1:20, ESV


7. Van Til, Cornelius. A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 16.


Debate Round No. 3
Meatros

Pro

I want to thank Brian and the readers of this debate. The resolution has been ‘the naturalist has better reasons for assuming that nature is uniform than the Christian’. I believe I have fulfilled this.

I want to start with contention 6 because he has not address it directly.

Contention 6:

Brian asserts that other worldviews cannot justify the obligation to believe anything; he offers no conclusive proof of his assertion.

He argues that he is able to trust his reasoning because God guarantees it through Scripture. To interpret Scripture one must be able to trust one’s own autonomous reasoning! He presupposes autonomously reasoning, while blatantly denying it. It is unclear why we should accept the Bible as a revelation of God as opposed to the other Gospels that didn’t make it into Canon (1)

Brian quotes Van Til, who argues why God’s reasoning is infallible. The problem is not about God, it is about us – how do we know which thoughts God is thinking (so that we may think them after him)? How are we supposed to determine which revelations of God are? Our cognitive tools have been stripped.

Contention 1:

Brian has taken aim at instrumentalism through the words of Popper, is arguing against hard instrumentalism -yet one can adopt soft instrumentalism:

Another type of instrumentalism, which we might call soft instrumentalism, grants that beliefs are real, but only in a less robust sense than is ordinarily thought... Consider as an analogy: Is the equator real? Well, not in the sense that there's a red stripe running through the Congo; but saying that a country is on the equator says something true about its position relative to other countries and how it travels on the spinning Earth. Are beliefs real? Well, not perhaps in the sense of being representations stored somewhere in the mind; but attributing a belief to someone says something true about that person's patterns of behavior and response. Beliefs are as real as equators, or centers of gravity, or the average American. The soft instrumentalist holds that such things are not robustly real (if that makes sense)—not as real as mountains or masses or individual, actual Americans. They are in some sense inventions that capture something useful in the structure of more robustly real phenomena; and yet at the same time they are not mere fictions.” (2)

This solves Popper’s criticism; yet there are other solutions available (3). So we have reason to continue to presuppose UoN because what we discover helps us out in our everyday lives and it provides us predictive models.

Contention 2:

Brian points out that not all naturalists are determinists. He's right; yet my concern is not to rescue all types naturalists. Brian asks how things are determined, he says “But what is it that prevents “internal” interruptions, or prevents there being chaos inside of a Naturalistic system instead of order?”

This is a bit to unpack. When we talk of laws of nature we are talking about regularities, about how things act. Part of what constitutes an entity in the natural world is the physical characteristics it possesses and how they interact with other entities. So, what could be meant by an ‘internal’ interruption? It seems to suggest the question, what prevents an entity from acting like itself? This question is simply incoherent.

Contention 3:

Brian continues to beg the question “My confidence that God will continue to govern with regularity is not based upon some inductive generalization, but bases upon who God is, given his immutable character and nature.

Why is Brian confident? Because God is immutable.Why should we believe this will remain to be the case though? Further, why should we maintain that God’s governing of the UoN will remain consistent?

Content 4:

Brian seems to just assume God has an interest in the UoN, “it seems as though God gives general purposes – along with regularities – to all of his creation.” Brian is grasping here – he is interpreting the Bible as he sees fit, not as to what it actually says. He writes:

Induction does not produce 100% certainty. But, it can produce nothing without regularities by which to generalize. God produces those regularities, albeit with sparse and obvious interruptions.”

What reason suggests God cares about the UoN? Apparently God is only interested in maintaining the seasons or with giving everything a reason. Brian appeals to Gen 1:14-15:

It should be noted that this is prior to the flood, in which God promises to maintain the seasons, so this cannot possibly be used to support the idea that God’s intention in his creation was to have stable seasons. Clark says:

The Hebrews were not theoretical thinkers - wisdom was for them profoundly practical. To say that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" is not to make a claim about proper procedure in physics, packaging, or the culinary arts. It is a claim about practical wisdom - how to live one's (moral and spiritual) life. The very idea of a biblical epistemology seems to me as misguided as the ideal of a biblical meteorology.” (4)

Later, Brian seeks to excuse miracles as anomalies:

Does the day the sun stood still for Joshua mean it won't rise tomorrow? Do singular anomalies ruin our ability to do science, or overturn scientific theories? Do you think Newton would have revised his description of the motion of the planets if he had lived in Joshua's time?

I interpret Brian to be saying that we don’t toss out Newton’s picture of gravity simply because we observe one thing that doesn’t fit. The fact is that science did replace Newton’s vision of physics with the theory of relativity, because of the build-up of anomalies. Our scientific theories are not perfect and their refinement as a result of figuring out what those anomalies are leads to ever better scientific theories. Asimov writes:

What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.”(4)


The assumption in Brian’s objection is that scientists ignore these small problems, but as Einstein showed, they don’t. Einstein figured out what the anomalies meant (5).

Contention 5:

Brian continues to appeal to the notion that miracles are one-offs. He writes:

If we determine that a miracle is a special intervention or interruption then we cannot expect them to have regularity, but instead appear as anomalies. So, we should not expect something like the orbit moon to be considered miraculous (besides which, we have an example of its intended regularity described in Gen. 1:16

Of course, Gen 1:16 does not speak of God intending the orbit of the moon to be regular – this is Brian’s view. Here’s the verse:

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”

The moon doesn’t generate its' own light, it reflects the Sun's. The Hebrews weren't arguing the point that Brian is straining from the text. I asked how we know that the moon’s orbit wasn't a miracle; Brian implies that its' regularity is the key. To us, it doesn’t seem like an interruption because its duration seems to be a very long time. Time isn’t the same for God, Ps 90:4:

For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

It could just be a slight interruption to God. I'll repeat, How is finite man supposed to know when, where, and for how long these interferences occur?

Conclusion:

Brian has attempted to refute my position, but in the end, he couldn't.

Vote Pro

References:

(1) http://www.earlychristianwritings.com...

(2) http://plato.stanford.edu...

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org...

(4) Five Views on Apologetics, KJC, p256

(5) http://chem.tufts.edu...

(6) http://en.wikipedia.org...

BrianCBiggs

Con

I thank Meatros for this debate. I do not believe he has shown that the Naturalist has better reason to believe in the UoN. For, if “it works” were a good justification, why cannot the Christian use this as well? And if he could justify his determinism, why would not I, as a Calvinist, believe less in the UoN? Not only do his justifications need to stand for him to win, but his criticisms as well.


Naturalism



My opponent has adopted soft instrumentalism? If Meatros does believe that scientific beliefs “are in some sense inventions that capture something useful in the structure of more robustly real phenomena, and yet at the same time they are not mere fictions”, then he has fled towards realism. But, if our theories are not “mere fictions” and do describe something real (or “more robustly real”), and ought to be judged by their usefulness, then the argument is flipped. It would seem that the usefulness now flows from the UoN. For, if nature were not uniform, how could beliefs that reflect reality make “useful” predictions? Ultimately I think this reduces to: it is useful to assume the UoN because nature is uniform.



To say that assuming the UoN is useful in everyday life is only to grant what the presuppositionalist is arguing: that the Naturalist uses the assumption in everyday life because it is useful but cannot account for it.



Meatros pointed out that he is not representing all naturalists. I say that is fine and I don't expect him to, just as I am not defending all Christian views (e.g. Clark's). On the other hand, the beliefs I espouse are based upon a Reformed doctrine of God. I can grant that Meatros is a determinist and allow him to defend his view; in fact, that is what I am calling him to do. For, if he is a determinist, what is it that makes things determined? For, it seems to me that to proposes a Naturalistic world is deterministic is to assume the UoN as the thing that “determines” things. So, what is the basis of Meatros' determinism/belief in the UoN?



Is it, as Meatros suggests, that entities are constituted by certain characteristics and how it interacts with other entities? Is this really the ontological basis for the UoN given by Naturalism? Let's say that entities that posses the set of characteristics X are labeled A, and those possessing Y are labeled B. What is it that maintains that an entity in class A will continue to be in A, rather than at some point take on the characteristics of Y and switch to class B? Is there some particle or entity that a Naturalist would hold is immutable?



Now, one might answer that an entity that switches from A to B is no longer the same entity, because X made it what it is. But then, why can't things be in flux? And if entities, why not the “laws” by which they interact?




Christianity



My opponent has granted that Miracles presuppose the UoN. Yet, now they pose a problem which seems to stem from not being able to distinguish between them and the UoN. Miracles are either distinguishable from the UoN but presuppose it, or they are not distinguishable and pose no problem. But, suppose that there is a long lasting miracle that operates in a predictable way (e.g. the orbit of the moon)? This blurs the lines between providence and miracles. It also assumes that the purpose of miracles – they do have purposes, after all – are not tied into their being unusual. The word miracle is not always used for what are identified as miracles in the Bible. Sometimes these things are just called “wonders” or “signs and wonders”. (1)



Meatros is fond of quoting Kelly Clark in opposition to my views. Clark's misguided view of Hebrew writing aside, he seems to make a division between moral and spiritual wisdom and epistemology. He has to divide these things, in order to maintain autonomy. So, if I have a view of epistemology that differs from Clark and I don't find Clark convincing, resulting in me dismissing the Bible and Christianity's claims, am I off the hook morally and before God? After all, my autonomous reasoning did not lead me to God and how else would I get to that belief? If I'm not off the hook, then why? What if I'm just not smart enough to figure out the Bible is true and that I ought to repent? How does Clark distinguish between moral acts and epistemology unless there is no obligation to believe truth, no obligation to submit to God's revelation?



I take the Bible as divine revelation and therefore as authoritative. As Van Til explains:



As self-explanatory, God, naturally speaks with absolute authority. It is Christ as God who speaks in the Bible. Therefore the Bible does not appeal to human reason as ultimate in order to justify what it says. It comes to the human being with absolute authority. It's claim is that human reason must itself be taken in the sense in which Scripture take it, namely, as created by God and as therefore properly subject to the authority of God.(2)



And,



We have felt ourselves compelled to take our notions with respect to the nature of reality from the Bible. It will be readily conceded that such a notion of reality as we have presented could be received upon authority only. Such a notion of being as we have presented is to be found nowhere except in the Bible. The Bible is taken so seriously that we have not even left any area of known reality by which the revelation that comes to us in the Bible may be compared, or to which it may be referred as to a standard. We have taken the final standard of truth to be the Bible itself. (3)



Van Til is not alone or new in these ideas. He stands firmly in the Calvinist tradition. Calvin wrote:



...the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it is. ...our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, Judgments, or reasons; namely the secret testimony of the Spirit.



...Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. (4)



I point this out to explain the nature of a revelatory epistemology in opposition to Clark's, which, it seems, does not allow for the Spirit to attest to Scripture, or to give illumination in the process of interpreting Scripture. As far as issues of canonization, transmission, etc. I can't give a full defense/explanation within this debate.



How do I know that God will remain immutable? Well, either he is immutable or he isn't. If he is immutable one day and not the next... he changed and wasn't immutable... It leads to absurdities. Immutability is a natural outworking of God's aseity and eternality, and, more importantly his self-revelation. (5) So, its part and parcel with Christianity.



Meatros may have gotten hung up on the Flood, but there is much to be noticed in Genesis 1. Poythress writes:



Creation is the foundation for God's continual providential governance of the world. ...the acts of creation enjoy a continued relation to the present acts of governing. For example, God created plants on the third day. ...First, God's word caused the first springing up of plants. Second, God's word describes and governs the continued springing up of plants.(6)



Soli Deo Gloria



Sources



1. For example: Ex. 7:3, Deut 6:22, Ps 77:11 Dan 4:2-3.


2. Van Til, Cornelius. A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 15.


3. Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith, p. 32.


4. Calvin, John. Institutes 1.7.4


5. Mal 3:6, Jas 1:17


6. Poythress, Vern. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, p 77.

Debate Round No. 4
50 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Meatros 5 years ago
Meatros
I think I see what your are saying.
Posted by ApostateAbe 5 years ago
ApostateAbe
Meatros, to be clear, I think you won the debate and deserved it. I have a strong perspective that, whenever I try to show that one belief is better than another, that I apply the same criteria to both beliefs--the criteria support this belief but do not support this other belief. If the criterion of instrumentalism shows that your belief is better than another belief, then it is strongly expected that you apply instrumentalism to both. And, yeah, I think it would pay to focus the arguments.
Posted by Meatros 5 years ago
Meatros
There's actually an entirely different angle with regard to the UoN that I've been thinking about recently. I was tempted to try to argue it in this debate, but I don't have my thoughts entirely around the issue. I think there might be a connection between the metaphysics of time and the UoN, but until I flesh it out some, I think I'd get slaughtered if I presented it. I have a ton more reading to do on the metaphysics of time before I can seriously entertain it.
Posted by Meatros 5 years ago
Meatros
I think if I were to argue this again, I would have to adjust the resolution a bit. I'd also trim down the contentions considerably.
Posted by Meatros 5 years ago
Meatros
I'm not sure I agree with how weak it was, but, with respect to the Christian, I attempted to show 4 lines of evidence why the Christian wasn't justified in the same assumption (at least through implication). The problem was that my opponent didn't attempt to say that the Christian could have used the same reasoning until the final round (which I could not respond to). Initially I attempted to insert something earlier in the debate to short-circuit this potential attack, but I had to cut it (in several responses) because I lacked the room and he didn't specifically bring it up (so it would have been arguing a strawman).

Had he brought it up earlier, I would have pointed out that my contention 6 specifically reduces his worldview to skepticism (so he could trust anything, basically).

Granted, he could have countered with saying that not all Christians view scripture in the same way he does - if that's the case I would have had to come up with some other means to respond - I might have attempted to argue that the Christian position should be presuppostional.
Posted by ApostateAbe 5 years ago
ApostateAbe
Meatros, in that case it comes off as a weak argument with respect to the resolution, because the resolution is, 'the Naturalist has BETTER reason for the assumption that nature is uniform then the Christian'. If you justify your own position wit instrumentalism, then I think it would most help to show how the opposing position fails by the same criterion.
Posted by Meatros 5 years ago
Meatros
Actually, I agree with you Apostate - my intent was to avoid showing that the UoN was a feature of reality (that we could be certain of it), instead I attempted to craft my argument in such a way to show that a naturalist could still show reason for trusting the UoN (because it works, not because it's necessarily true).

Granted I did argue somewhat that the UoN could be a feature of a deterministic naturalistic universe, so there is some conflict there, but I don't think Brian addressed this.
Posted by ApostateAbe 5 years ago
ApostateAbe
OK, for BrianCBiggs, my main complaint would be that any criticism that rests on an infinite regress of skepticism comes off as philosophical doggerel. For Meatros, I would say that Russel's teapot is just as "instrumentalist" as the uniformity of nature, and it is no test of objective reality--it is more of a justification of scientific practice.
Posted by Meatros 5 years ago
Meatros
Yeah, I should have extended the voting period. Initially I just wanted to get my three debates over with and I wasn't really thinking.

I'd still appreciate your input Popculture and Apostate. I'm all about learning and debate is an art and I've got a long way to go until I get better.

One thing I've taken away from this about debate inflation. It got to be increasingly difficult to fit the material into the 8k limit. I'm sure Brian felt the same.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
popculturepooka
Wait, WHAT?! I was mulling this one over to vote on it and the voting period is already over?

(-_-)
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by Freeman 5 years ago
Freeman
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Comments.
Vote Placed by Phoenix_Reaper 5 years ago
Phoenix_Reaper
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Reasons for voting decision: I'll be honest it was a long hard read to follow. Meatros arguments were more convincing or affirming his stance.
Vote Placed by ReformedArsenal 5 years ago
ReformedArsenal
MeatrosBrianCBiggsTied
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Total points awarded:34 
Reasons for voting decision: For the record, I'm not voting according to the questions, just for points. I scored this 4:3 for Brian. The issue with instrumentalism is that it is a giant exercise in begging the question in this debate. We can assume that the universe will not change, because assuming the universe will not change is useful for predicting that the universe will not change. Although instrumentalism is effective in other areas, in this one I don't think it stands. More in the comments.